Monday, July 09, 2012
Recently, temperatures across the United States have hit triple digits in many areas. Even though many states don’t run their soccer leagues in the summer there are still tournaments held. It is important to recognize the safest approach to playing soccer in the heat and to always err on the side of safety.
Hydration will always be a significant part of staying healthy while playing in the summer. Discuss with your coach the idea of stopping games to have hydration breaks; then let the coach get the referees on board. If you are playing 45 minute halves then stop around 22 minutes to allow a five minute cool-down break. If the halves are shorter, players can still benefit from a quick break to rehydrate and rest. Explain to players the warning signs of dehydration – dizziness, weakness in the muscles, cramping, and nausea. If they experience any of these they should sit down and call the referee. Young players often don’t understand the seriousness of dehydration and heat exhaustion and older players attempt to play through the symptoms not wanting to seem like they are weak or letting down the team. Yet every summer we read about players who either end up in the hospital or worse — die from heat related problems. It’s a serious problem which can be addressed so it is always better to deal with symptoms immediately. Be sure players understand the importance of building up fluids before a game, replacing them during the game, and then taking in additional fluids after the game. The battle between water and sports drinks is something experts will always have, but they all agree that whatever fluid you choose, you need to drink enough. I suggest you keep a case of drinks in your trunk. You’d be surprised how many kids arrive at games being played in high heat without any drinks. Finally, get a drum water container and assign someone at each game to be responsible for filling it. It doesn’t need to be ice water – in fact ice water could cause stomach cramps – but it will be a way for kids to drink or even toss some water over their heads.
The next factor in avoiding heat related harm is staying as cool as possible. Shade is very important. The team might consider chipping in to purchase a shade tent you can get at Sam’s Club or Costco. One parent could be in charge of transporting it to games and setting it up over the benches. Provide the team with two or three spray bottles to spray faces, necks, arms, and tops of heads. Helping the natural cooling ability of sweat will minimize the internal storage of heat. Another thing the team can provide is a cooler filled with ice water and cheap wash cloths that players can place on the backs of their necks to help cool them off. There is a product called Frogg Toggs which are shammies with the same purpose but at a higher cost. You can buy a pack of wash cloths at a discount store for the price of one Frogg Togg. Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to have the cool cloths available for the players. They can throw them on during breaks in the game and get a good cool down.
Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen. Players can stay hydrated and cool and still end up with a really bad sunburn which can make them just as sick as getting dehydrated or overheated. Like fluids, I suggest keeping a supply of sunscreen in the car. It’s an easy item to forget. No matter your skin type everyone needs sunscreen. Don’t expect cloud cover to make sunscreen unnecessary. Those UV waves are not stopped by clouds in the sky. Make it a habit to cover all skin with sunscreen every time you go to a game. Don’t forget the ears, nose, and back of the neck. A lot of the time we cover arms and legs and end up with those other delicate areas getting burned because we neglect them. There have been recent reports that many sunscreens are actually toxic and can cause cancer themselves. The Skin Cancer Foundation (skincancer.org) has studied and come to the conclusion that the ingredients oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are safe when used as directed. In addition, they recommend for kids a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Remember that even sunscreens that advertise as water-resistant need to be reapplied after 80 minutes in the water or activities with lots of sweating.
All of these suggestions can apply to fans as well. Even though you aren’t running doesn’t mean you can’t suffer from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sunburn. Take these guidelines to heart and keep yourself safe from heat-related maladies. Playing in summer’s unforgiving heat and sun doesn’t mean you and your kids have to end up miserable or sick. Take some precautions, watch out for signs of trouble, and take enough breaks to hydrate and cool down.